Sen. Reid Says Comey May Have Violated Law and Withheld Information About Trump's Ties With Russia

Patrick Goodenough | October 31, 2016 | 4:16am EDT
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Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton at a dinner in Las Vegas on January 6, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

( – Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Sunday accused FBI Director James Comey of partisanship in the presidential election campaign – “tarring Secretary [Hillary] Clinton with innuendo” while refusing to make public information about “close ties and coordination” between Donald Trump and the Kremlin.

The attack came two days after Comey in a letter to Congress said the FBI was working to establish whether or not a newly-emerged batch of emails were pertinent to the bureau’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Comey’s letter, coming 11 days before the end of a bitter campaign, has caused an uproar, with the Clinton camp criticizing him for the timing and for making the announcement without knowing more.

The initial response from the Senate’s top Democrat was to urge Comey to be more transparent and provide the American public with more information than a brief letter which, he said, had triggered “rampant, baseless speculation.”

Sunday’s letter from Reid – two months away from retirement – went much further, questioning Comey’s principles, accusing him of practicing double standards, and charging that he may have broken a 77-year-old law that prohibits federal employees from using their positions in a bid to influence an election.

Reid said Comey had withheld sensitive information about Trump from the public, “with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another.”

“The clear double-standard established by your actions strongly suggests that your highly selective approach to publicizing information, along with your timing, was intended for the success or failure of a partisan candidate or political group,” he said.

At the center of Reid’s allegation is the campaign narrative that Trump is colluding in some way with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow are at their chilliest level since the Soviet Union disintegrated.

“In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government – a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,” Reid wrote.

“The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.”

Reid ended his letter with a stinging jab.

When Republicans had delayed the FBI director’s confirmation, he recalled, “I led the fight to get you confirmed because I believed you to be a principled public servant.”

“With the deepest regret, I now see that I was wrong.”

(Comey was confirmed in July 2013, after Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul threatened to filibuster the nomination over concerns about the bureau’s domestic drone policy. The confirmation vote was 93-1, with Paul casting the sole “no.”)

Democrats’ anger at the latest turn of events marks a reversal from the situation last summer, when after a lengthy investigation into Clinton’s private server Comey concluded that while her actions were “extremely careless” and some emails moving through her server contained classified information, there was insufficient evidence to recommend an indictment.

Then, it was Republicans who condemned Comey’s decision, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), in response to a question on whether Clinton had received preferential treatment, saying, “It looks like it to me.”

(Democratic National Committee interim chairwoman Donna Brazile tweeted at the time: “Simply pathetic to watch members of Congress grill Director Comey because he’s not playing their game of gotcha.”)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (Photo: The Kremlin, File)

Russian shadow looms over campaign

Reid’s references to Russia come in the final stages of a campaign in which America’s Cold War rival has played an unusual and outsized role.

The U.S. intelligence community has accused Russia of being behind the theft and release, via Wikileaks, of thousands of emails linked to Clinton’s campaign.

For her part, Clinton has accused Trump of having inappropriately favorable views of Putin.

The issue arose during the GOP primary campaign, when Trump said during a debate 13 months ago that he would “get along with” the Russian leader. He later called Putin “a powerful leader.”

When Putin last December described Trump as “a very bright personality” and “a talented person,” Trump said it was “a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

Then in July, Trump made waves when he voiced the hope that Russia – which was a primary suspect in an earlier hacking episode, involving thousands of DNC emails – had access to and would release the more than 30,000 private server emails which Clinton says she deleted.

Clinton said those comments amounted to “encouragement that the Russians hack into American email accounts.”  Trump said he was being sarcastic.

In August, Reid in a letter to Comey wrote that the threat of Russian government meddling in the election was “more extensive than widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results.”

That same month, Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned after a New York Times report drew attention to his past consultancy services for Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president, Viktor Yanukovich, and allegations that he may have received illegal payments worth $12 million.

Yanukovich fled Kiev after a popular uprising in November 2013, a development that turned Ukraine back to the West but also triggered Russian intervention and the annexation of Crimea.

During the campaign’s sole vice-presidential debate earlier this month, Trump’s running mate Gov. Mike Pence in a change of tone referred twice to Putin as the “small and bullying leader of Russia.”

Late last week, Putin said it was absurd to argue that Russia could affect the U.S. election.

He also dismissed as “nonsense and lunacy” claims that he favored Trump in the race, saying they were an attempt to manipulate public opinion in order to help Clinton.

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